Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to throw Steve Bannon down the memory hole.

Michael Wolff, author of a forthcoming book on the Trump administration, revealed today that Bannon--Trump's former chief strategist--had called the 2016 meeting between Russian agents and Trump campaign officials "treasonous" and "unpatriotic." The meeting in question, which took place in Trump Tower and which was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, was the result of Donald Trump Jr.'s enthusiastic acceptance of the Russian contacts' offer of "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. (Trump Sr. later participated in an attempted cover-up of the meeting's true purpose.)

Predictably enraged, Trump responded with a furious four-paragraph statement attacking Bannon's character, political skills, work ethic, loyalty, honesty, and sanity. It retroactively recharacterized Bannon's August departure as a firing (at the time, Trump lavished thanks on the departing Bannon), and claimed that he had "lost his mind." Aggressive even by Trump's usual scorched-earth standards, it contained at least one outright lie: the assertion that "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency."

In fact, Bannon loomed so large in the campaign and especially in the first months of the Trump administration that at times he threatened to outshine Trump himself. He became the chief executive of the Trump campaign in August 2016, and (with help from two of his former companies, Russia-linked data-mining company Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart News) presided over Trump's unlikely resurrection. Trump made him "chief strategist and senior advisor" immediately after the election. Unusually for a civilian aide, Bannon was permitted to attend meetings of the National Security Council--a degree of security clearance functionally equal to Trump's. And while the two did not always get along, Trump tolerated Bannon because much of Trump's political base comes from the so-called "alt-right" that Bannon (as head of Breitbart News) has enormous influence over.

Why should I care about this?

  • Nobody likes being associated with treason, but there's something to be said for a president who is at least theoretically capable of controlling his temper.